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The Elephants

Stem Sound

Nawal Nader-French

  1. On stems
  2. In
  3. principio
  4. erat
  5. Verbum
  6. et
  7. apud
  8. sonus
  9. Stem sound

On stems

When my mother died, I could only think of beginnings. I could only think of her language:

In principio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat apud sonus
In the beginning was the word, and the word was with sound.


such as when we are in; that is, we are in an action or state marked by an absence, in which an absence is a negative. To be surrounded by something else within; that an in implies an out; as in, she held a secret inside her; she got a word in; such as to be made in words; that is, to be dying without sound & in which she slipped out & could not get in. To be inexpressible; to be marked by an interstice in time, during, over the past— I’ll see you after, she said, and during, perhaps, as it were, in spaces in which the hours stay hidden; in which she is still in.

as in principle (n.) just as in the beginning it was in principio; from primus the first that was first adapted by princeps, from latin, prince + capiō: to take; that which is seized & implies principio once belonged to another; was possessed elsewhere; where the inception of the word at principio was a word seized from an it, from a something or somewhere before arriving in male for sovereign rule.

erat (v.)
esse (latin to be)
where he / she / it was to say the word; to tell someone of the word; where he/she/it is an epoch, from era; a period that forms the word; f (genitive erae); at first declension* [where latin words of the first declension are generally of feminine gender of an invariable stem]: as in she who forms the word;
where it is a she who speaks the word of the same form in both the singular and plural; a constant that is made to stop, restrict, and wait to rise.

it is the word; said to be the word of God; said to express action or being; the logos, the rational principle said to govern and develop the universe. To be exact, the smallest element that can be uttered in isolation. Where to exist, it must utter the second person— incarnate in a person.

where something else must exist for it to exist & to be added; that nothing can be added to nothing unless the it is something that exists; nothing can be added when death is the it; a diminutive word, such as, she spoke and the air missed the word; likewise, a plus used to combine words. As when movement makes metaphor; a word-forming element— but not now, & not always felt as one without the stem.


as in, with, from Latin. As in apud hoc, "with this”; that which is in association & yet against & opposes. That when in union it is more apart & seems to move near; that it would be more separated from. As in sever: the word serve moved in one letter, two places to the left. Where when we sever, we dismantle serve from fixed position. Where when a woman steps in places in a word she is wo, sub to man & she is fe +male; where she steps one letter in two places to the left & severs in two halves towards apud & no longer serves the word.


as in, sound from Latin; as related to sono, tone; as sonus is for sound, as it is for noise; as it is pre-language which when the voice says, sono sonito, I am born, it is the birth of the speaker in sound; whereas birth of the word is sonet as in resounding; as in the sound a thread makes sawing into a tongue that swells with opposition till it cannot speak. Where differences are the un-rounding of sounds undone vowels in the word; of which sound is related to word; such as when from sound, the word is forced into birth through differences. Where in the differences, the outer & inner are needed for each to become whole and towards dominating the other; that is, the word unlike sound is birthed out of power & there is no domination without opposition between the inner and outer in language & it is without the language; of sonitus, of sound that we do not have words— we have wars & wants & worlds but we do not have words to write about death; we have what sounded; as in a sonata was translated to words & mistranslated. Where the speaker in search of the unrecognizable word learns not to trust in words but in letters as notes for sounds. Where the speaker subverts words— like a finger sweeping the air preventing choking on the word fattened on the swollen tongue— like writing musical notes beneath a string thickened on rosin; as in where the speaker disrupts language to a grid, and says there are no words for her death but notes for sounds. As in when the speaker resorts to a place that precedes language & discovers it naked & vulnerable. Where without opposition, there is no life to precede death, & opposition cannot find its measure through sound. Where, when sound plays in highs & lows on repeat as in sonet sonet sonet it is resounding as though in dialogue, in simpatico & synchronous. Where sound is in full communion with itself— where it is a sound of the same note in opposing genders engendered in sound, as in, of sono, tone of a self ; where the speaker translates words to music notes for a death without a life and lets out the poem in sound such as, sonitus, a sound of; sonus, a sound; sonet, resounds; sonare, sound; sonata, sounded; sono, tone; such as notes for the last sound heard. And there are two sounds for every word. One sound is never spoken.

Stem sound

When my mother died, I could only think of beginnings. I could only think of her language:

In principio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat apud sonus
The inexpressible is seized from an invariable stem before arriving at the smallest incarnate uttered in isolation, in which a stem is in union towards a separation of two sounds of which an I is born in the unspoken.

Nawal Nader-French is an MFA candidate in her final semester at Regis University in Denver. Her poems have appeared in By&By Poetry, Bayou Magazine, Progenitor Art and Literary Journal, Rogue Agent, AMP: Hofstra University's Digilit Magazine, and is forthcoming in Grist (a finalist in their Pro Forma Contest). Her poem “That I remember” has been nominated for Sundress Publications' 2017 Best of the Net. In the past she's taught secondary English, developed curriculum, and coordinated blended learning in school districts. Nawal holds a BA in English and Secondary Education, and an MA in Curriculum and Instruction.

This originally appeared on October 25, 2017